The Experiment of Hope / Francis Sanchez

Dagoberto Valdés, director of the periodical ‘Convivencia’. (BARACUTEYCUBANO.BLOGSPOT.COM)

On the 15th of February 2008, with the uploading to the internet of Issue 1 (January-February), the magazine Convivencia was born in Pinar del Río.  Since then, six years have passed of uninterrupted bimonthly publication.  The new publication invited one to live on a horizon at once broad and intimate, democratic, heavy with possibilities and without the scourge of restrictive determinations.  “A dawn for the citizenry and civil society in Cuba”, the title of the first edition’s editorial, would become the motto of the magazine.

The beginning of the new alternative project within Casa Cuba, passing between the homogeneity and impersonality of the official press, brought a signal of hope or possible restoration of diversity from the westernmost of the Cuban provinces, after the retirement had taken place in 2006 of the bishop José Siro González Bacallao to a farm in Mantua.

Confusions and disappointments have taken place, at times imperceptibly, but knowing the difference between one and the other helps us to understand and to hope.  Let us see.  It is known how, during the nineties, a weave of publications belonging to the Catholic Church was assembled in Cuba — although sociocultural in ecumenical spirit — that allowed intellectual communities in many provinces to have a means of expression for the first time.  I met Dagoberto Valdés in that setting: we founded the Catholic Press Union of Cuba (UCLAP-Cuba) in November 1996, in the church La Merced of Camagüey.

The new magazine movement was thriving (Vitral in Pinar del Río, Palabra Nueva in Havana, Amanecer in Villa Clara, Enfoque in Camagüey, Cocuyo in Holguín, Iglesia en Marcha in Santiago de Cuba, etc.) and independent of state control, which, as it must be supposed, would influence the State to respond by assembling a national system of editing houses and territorial magazines.

The unique impact of Vitral, its operation, its alternative editions, compelled the Government to strengthen the world of Pinareño culture in proportions that would have otherwise been unthinkable.  Great sums were thus expended on projects such as, for example, the beautiful Ediciones Cauce and the Hermanos Loynaz Centre, elements that taken together would subsequently pay for themselves by achieving such a rich diversity there that this province would stand out in the civic, cultural, and editorial spectrum of the country.

The magazine Vitral, the Church, Dagoberto Valdés, and Pinar del Río were key points of reference in a phase of optimism that was marked by the first visit of a Pope to Cuba. Days of illumination were lived then — before, during, and after the brief crossing of Wojytla, the Pilgrim Pope.  “Have no fear,” he said in mass in the José Martí Civic Plaza on the 25th of January of 1998, and at some moment everyone or most of the people present there were springing up — we were springing up — calling out “Liberty, liberty.”  Either we no longer had fear, or we did not want to have, indeed, any more fear.  Two days before, John Paul II had held the Encounter with the World of Culture, in the Great Hall of the University of Havana. 

Among the few photographs that came out of those I took at that meeting, I save one in which I appear standing next to Dagoberto Valdés on a wing of the second floor.  He was attending as a representative of Vitral, while I found myself in that hall as a young writer who was creating, along with others, a similar magazine: Imago, founded in 1996 and belonging to the diocese of Ciego de Ávila.

The opportunity of that encounter with the world of culture and John Paul II has been moreover the only day of my life in which I have seen Fidel Castro in the flesh, dressed strangely in a collar and tie there below in the first row, likewise to hear the religious leader, and, certainly, he seemed to me then very pinched, perhaps as an effect of the contrast with the image I had formed in my mind.  I think I took some pictures from afar with my modest camera, but they did not come out.

Why stir up such memories to refer to the fifth anniversary of the magazine Convivencia?  I have come back to the mentioned photo, and to another in which I am raising up a little Cuban flag in a very packed square, and with an enormous Heart of Jesus covering the façade of the National Library.  Without a doubt, a new phase of the old and complicated experiment that time and again has seemed easy was being tested or beginning, although in the long run it shows signs of error: the experiment of hope.  The hope of liberty.

Cuba must open itself to Cuba

Up to what point hasn’t the search for a spiritual and collective liberty been a controlled trial, condemned to failure?  Who motivates our reactions and rations out our actions?  Who distributes the social reach of intimate or true result?

Apparently a return of Cuba to the universal accord of democracy is tried once and again, and what is sad is that we who live out this trial from below and within, repeating it it, putting into every expression all of the energy and urgent need of our mortal nature, at times simply cannot get nor give answers.

The international repercussion of the first visit of a Pope to the island brought back to us, with great underscores, the petition that Cuba open itself to the world and that the world open itself to Cuba.  It was urged at the coexistence between hemispheres without the great polarities of the Cold War.  Without a doubt, that invitation impressed well, but although such a call-up and the wake of open expectations aimed to create a point of rotation in the tradition of rigidities, they continued giving preeminence to the problem of the role of a nation constructed for an international political conflict.

An emblematic scheme has continuously been inflated which has been incapacitating, agonizing for we who live it from within and beneath in Cuba, scheme or favorite script of those who enjoy power, and some who covet it, where this tale would supposedly have only two actors obliged to share one same scene: Cuba and the world.  An enormous tale of love-hate.  A libretto not for liberty, but rather to depersonalize.

That assumption, used as a straitjacket, has served to pretend justifying a stop to civic liberties and rights on the island.  It has been brandished to silence or make invisible all the rest of us subjects who fill what they wish to present to us merely as a great international “scenario”, historic laboratory table, when it is no more than the area and the time of life, like the life of every human being: inexorable, unrepeatable.  Lives, or unique novels where everyone is either protagonist of himself, or has been no one.

In light of the suspicion that we suffer artificial experiments, ill-constructed scenarios, we human beings have a metaphysical dilemma which remodels our civil condition: to open up to ourselves, to be, to live as we consciously are, then it will only be possible to build other reliable ontological and social figures, to open up among ourselves, to coexist.  Cuba must open itself to Cuba.

Not for fun have despotisms based themselves historically in a false gigantism that claims to annul faith in free will and the mortal, real, imperfect but infinitely worthy nature of the human being: from the untouchable castes, representatives of the afterlife, kings that were considered the direct descendants of gods, up to leaders and political groups that in modern history have declared themselves “the vanguard of society” or claim to head up scientifically superior social classes.

Another invitation of John Paul II’s extended in that giant plaza had more effect in my heart, where for the first and only time –also surely the last one– I found myself among the multitude when he invited us to be “protagonists of our personal and national history.”  Words taken as though by an annotator under a shell in an old theatre, at the bottom of our hearts that were wounded, half forgotten, thrown into the trash, to put them in our ears when the sky seemed clearer.

This last quote of John Paul II’s appears crowning the first editorial of the magazine Convivencia, where one can also read a programmatic maxim that became perhaps the necessary echo rising up from the earth, inevitable, personal: “We believe in the strength of the small.”

A renovation of the interior of Cuba

Somehow, despite the poor quality of the roads inside the country, and all of the broken bridges, I always get the magazine Convivencia.  I believe in this inner weave, cell to cell.  It is the same ethical motivation — for me in the final instance an active choice will always have a metaphysical reason — for which I also endeavour to make Árbol Invertido, “inland literary review”, without more interest but also with less illusion than this– the word which opens and closes the editorial “Tierradentrismo” from the first issue of the 2nd period of Árbol Invertido, corresponding to January-April of 2013: to be.

Convivencia is.  A word with a very deep power of announcement.  It does not enter the game of artificial paradises to substitute one old utopia for another, supposedly new or better, in that poor tradition of idealisms with which spiritually insufferable, baseless policies have sought to adorn themselves.  It sounds like the future and is full of reality.  Soft yet hardy.  Open.  Abundant.  It changes.  It flows.  It grows upon itself.  It branches out.  It shelters.  It explores.  It deluges and demands.  It arrives and it leaves.  Coexistence as a challenge, a possibility, arises from the condensation of life experiences.

Convivencia looks like itself.  Imperfect.  It imagines, it reflects the image, the metaphor of Casa Cuba that it has made its own from the identifier that appears on each title page.  If a person can accept themselves, or better put, should do it, as a plural being, box of echoes, impulses, defects, good and bad memories, the alternative of a civil society that bases itself on the creative relation of different peoples seems no less concrete.

From its structure, as a “socio-cultural magazine”, comes a model of inclusive edition.  Through its pages run the popular outcry or murmur, the calculus, the song of the artist, the prayer of the believer and the intellectual discourse, among an infinity of themes dear to natural people.  The Casa of the magazine Convivencia is not held up by the nails of so many dogmas, but rather moving upon the crests of the waves, in a spiritual impulse, when it is defined as “from Christian inspiration.” And I believe that here, in its entrance to tremblingly small things in the middle of the night, in its contribution to the light of spirituality, can be felt its most transcendent consequences.

We are not in need of another restoration, we who within a same residence felt that time and space were running out.  Let them take them from us.  Because definitively, a lasting “spiritual response” from anyone who feels oppressed may be based on the great ignorance of the institutions of hatred, not recognizing their perceived authority: do not do it with fear, but neither with more hatred.

One of the gratifying testimonies that I have found in Convivencia was that of doctor Hilda Molina.  I did not know her until I read this account of her life, it being revealing that a scientist like her — founder of the Cuban and Latin American schools of Neurological Restoration and the International Center for Neurological Restoration –, after living close-up the dogmas of practiced atheism and even suffering uncountable problems when she decided to express herself differently, would arrive at the following affectionate, perhaps idealistic? conclusion:
“Nevertheless, any reconstruction of material sort will prove useless, if we do not prioritize from this precise moment onward the spiritual reconstruction of our afflicted country, the rescue of its confiscated souls; and the resurrection of its faith, and its hopes.”

Convivencia is and resembles a too-ideal house, so real that it has only been possible for some as a miracle and for others, of course, as a great sin.  It is occupied and under construction.  It opens and connects communicating veins.  It is filling a stronger void: the hope in the necessary restoration of the “inside” of Cuba, in the soul.

Every time that a new issue of Convivencia arrives before my eyes from the other side of the walls of Havana and all the unexpected, I aspire to relive, to star in a free reading of the infinitely small time and space that is mine to live in, to embrace.  An edifying read, personal, making contact with other experiences no less authentic.  Can one ask for more?

Francis Sánchez, Ciego de Ávila

Diario de Cuba, 15 February 2014

Translated by russell conner